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Car Stories

[For an open-mic performance of this essay, follow this link.]

My name is Van. I’m named after a car, the 1950s British racecar called the Vanwall. As you might guess, my father was a car nut. My younger brother is Cooper, but don’t call him Mini Cooper.
You’d think I’d be a car nut myself. But apart from primal male lusting after Corvette Stingrays and the Maserattis and Ferraris we see tooling around Katonah, I’m not. In fact, I’m a very cautious, even anxious driver, the old guy who never exceeds the speed limit on the Saw Mill Parkway.
Still, I need to get around. I was very happy with a 2004 Hyundai Elantra I bought in 2005 at the Hyundai dealership in Stamford. It was a corporate car, barely used and I happily drove it for over 13 years. That is, until the steering seized up and the engine started smoking a few weeks ago. Rather than get it repaired, I decided to put the money into a down payment for a new car. 
Me, a new car! The Elantra lasted longer than cameras, cell phone…

Fathers and Sons, Doors and Prisons

John S. McCain Jr. and George Stephen Morrison lived parallel lives of military service. Both graduated from the U.S. Naval Academy—McCain in 1931, Morrison in 1941. They served in the Pacific in World War II and had careers that lasted into the Vietnam War era. McCain was Commander-in-Chief, Pacific Command (CINCPAC), commander of all U.S. forces in the Vietnam theater from 1968 to 1972.
Morrison was the commander of the Carrier Division during the 1964 Gulf of Tonkin episode. He reached the rank of Rear Admiral in 1967 and retired in 1975. While they were 10 years apart in age, the two men were both admirals from 1967 to 1972.
Besides educational and career similarities, the men both had sons who had notable careers: John S. McCain III, Navy pilot, 2008 presidential candidate and Senator, and Jim Morrison, lead singer of the Doors.
The death in August of Sen. McCain at age 81 deserved attention, as he rose to the highest levels of American politics. I wouldn't ordinarily assoc…

The Port Huron Statement, Up on the Shelf

One small pleasure in life: after I work out at the New York Sports Club in Baldwin Place, NY, I browse the book and CD section of the nearby Goodwill store. I'll scan books that catch my attention, buying some and noting others to get from the library.

Last Sunday my eye traveled to "The Port Huron Statement: The Visionary Call of the 1960s Revolution," written in 1962 by Tom Hayden (with contributors), then a 21 year-old student at the University of Michigan and a founder of the Students for a Democratic Society. This version of what's known as "PHS" dated from 2005 with a new introduction from Hayden, plus photos.



So far, nothing much to catch my attention. Then I looked at the inside cover. There, I saw that Hayden himself had signed the book—and signed it for somebody whose name I well recogized. The note said,

Katrina—who's to say—but without The Nation there might have been no Port Huron Statement. Thank you for embodying the radical reformist sp…

A Sunday Morning Post about "The Saturday Evening Post"

As is my wont in a doctor's waiting room, on Friday I passed the time by flipping through magazines; I'll look at anything. What really caught my eye was a name from the distant past: "The Saturday Evening Post." Seeing that title startled me: The Saturday Evening Post still exists?

Many baby boomers may recall the Post as one of those staples of middle-class reading material. In the Wallach household in the 1960s and 1970s, we had subscriptions to the Post, Life, Look, National Geographic (I only read it for the articles), Boys' Life and Sports Illustrated, with my mother also getting Good Housekeeping and the Ladies Home Journal. With only two TV channels then serving the Rio Grande Valley of Texas (KGBT and KRGV), magazine subscriptions gave us a window into the turbulent world.

The current incarnation of the Post appears every two months, published by a nonprofit organization that also publishes children's magazines Humpty Dumpty and Jack and Jill. Its ar…

Eric Bogosian Does Double-Duty on Billions and Succession

I've been a fan of the business-oriented series  Billions (Showtime) and Succession (HBO) since they started. Both unfold in New York amidst the lifestyles of the incomprehensibly wealthy: hedge funds for Billions, a family-run (or mis-run) media empire Waystar Royco on Succession. Their worlds float on a soulless ocean of estates, fixers, lawyers, security goons (on an as-needed basis), lissome models, deal hustlers and mostly ignored children. In these circles, far too much is never enough.

In a flight of fancy, I imagine crossovers between the series, as in those CSI programs and Marvel superhero movies. I'd like to see Billions' Bobby Axelrod join the team making a hostile takeover bid for Logan Roy's faltering media empire. His irresistible Queens ruthlessness and resources perfectly match the immovable force of ailing Logan Roy. Their corporate helicopters could sprout Hellfire missiles as they engage in aerial combat over Westport and East Hampton.

The two serie…

The Queen is Dead. Long Live the Queens.

I started thinking about contenders for the title of my personal Queen of Soul in late June, after I attended the American Roots Music Festival at the Caramoor Center for Music & the Arts in Katonah, NY. The day part of the festival wrapped up with an artist I’d never heard of, the Alexis P. Suter Band. I didn’t know what to expect.

Alexis Suter set me straight very quickly. She hit the stage in her trademarked lime-green top hat and got to work. Her big voice and commanding presence grabbed me as she performed a program of original and classic blues songs, and some gospel numbers. I learned she came from a musical family—her mother was the first African-American to study voice at Julliard. Suter’s an award-winning staple on the blues and roots festival circuits, and I can see why she was a headliner at Caramoor. At one point in the show the Brooklyn native invited the ever-so-sedate Westchester County audience to come in closer to the stage, so I hauled my folding chair right up…

On the Job But Not on the Railroad

Monday is the big transition day for me. After riding Metro-North to New York for over 22 years, I’m becoming a telecommuter, at least for the next two months. This is happening due to an office relocation from Sixth Avenue a few blocks to 42nd Street. The move is complex and my floor is closing on June 15 to prepare space for the new tenants; who will get my view of the News Corp. building across West 47th Street? I’ll never know. Rather than use the “free seating” option on other still-open floors, I opted to cancel my $369/month ticket and work at home.
While I’ve had the option of working remotely for years, I always liked going into New York for 3-4 days a week and working at home 1-2 days. Despite the time and expense, I liked the sense of belonging, of resources, of a place to WORK that I left at day's end. And I always enjoyed being in the city—walking through Times Square with my camera, the parades, the demonstrations, the museums, the splashy marketing promos, Broadway m…

Pepe's on the River, Written in "Texas Blood"

I recently read the book "Texas Blood" by Del Rio native Roger Hodge. While Hodge is an excellent and even exhaustive researcher, the book works better as a collection of essays than a coherent whole. I found myself skipping chunks of it (a chapter on Cormac McCarthy) and moving on to parts that held my attention and brought back a lot of good memories.

Hodge devotes considerable time to the Border Patrol and technology issues. As I'm a native of Mission, Texas, three miles from the Rio Grande, one passage especially caught my attention, about the well known landmark Pepe's on the River Restaurant, known to me in the 1960s as Pepe's Boat Ramp. This resonated with me because I grew up knowing the man behind the local landmark: Jose "Pepe" de la Fuente and his family—his wife Irene and my mother Shirley worked together for decades as secretaries at the Mission insurance agency of Conway, Dooley & Martin and our families were very close. We spent many …

The Second World Wars: An Implacable America Seeking Absolute Victory

I finished reading the eye-opening The Second World Wars by Victor Davis Hanson and came away with a lot to think about: the continuity of military issues from ancient times to today; the shifting alliances of World War II; how the Germans and Japanese misread the American capacity to make war; the British tenacity in keeping the war going for a year until the Germans invaded the USSR in 1941.

I found something compelling on every page. One passage in particular struck me in its sweep of U.S. military might and determination of attack enemies worldwide, with every weapon at hand. The passage, from pages 216-217, demands quoting in its entirety:
Why the American Army was small, in relative terms, is also illustrated by how diverse and spread over the globe the American military had become by the latter part of the war. For example, on the single day of the invasion of Normandy (June 6, 1944), around the world other US forces were just as much on the attack at sea and in the air. As par…

"The Second World Wars" -- Compelling on Every Page

I've always liked the online essays of classicist and military historian Victor Davis Hanson. His work combines deep historical knowledge and jargon-free expression to make big, discomforting points about current affairs. I had never read any of his books, however.

I hadn't until yesterday, when I started reading his latest, The Second World Wars: How the First Global Conflict was Fought and WonHanson grabbed me from the introduction and hasn't let go. I can pay it a high accolade: It kept me awake on the train commute home to the suburbs, when I'm usually dozing off. I'm only 30 pages in on a 500-page book, but I know what I'll have my nose in for the next week whenever possible.

Every page has striking passages that draw from Hanson's knowledge of classical culture and world history. I want to quote something from every paragraph, he's that compelling with his original take on World War II. Rather than a chronological approach, Hanson discusses the …